Sunday, October 4, 2009

Billy Elliot!

Change of plans- I probably won't be hitting up the museums until at least next weekend. I was lucky enough to be taken to one of the greatest shows on Broadway by a close friend from Leuven (Katrien) and her boyfriend Jon- so nice of them! I feel that a write up on this spectacular play is more than appropriate for an arts and society blog! Miss you Katrien!

To be completely honest, I had no idea what Billy Elliot was about before I went to see it. The only thing that really drew me to the show was the fact that it has won numerous Tony awards. Rave reviews from people I know was added incentive. At the beginning I wasn't sure if it was going to be as great as people made it out to be, as the opening act consisted of a huge television screen with video footage of union protests in Newcastle. It seemed like it was going to be more of a history lesson than a broadway production, and even though I am very interested in history, it just didn't catch my attention. However, as soon as the wide array of intricate sets were revealed, and the young actor playing Billy Elliot began dancing, I started to become more engaged in not just the show, but the context of it. I started to feel for the characters and become interested in their fates.

Billy Elliot is a twelve year old boy growing up in Northern England who has no desire to mine coal, drink all day, or become a boxer; he is the black sheep of his family and town, a social outcast. One day, after accidentally stumbling upon a ballet class full of girls following a pitiful boxing lesson, he realizes his potential and passion to become a great dancer, and finds himself taken under the wing of the instructor, who sees a future in ballet for this young, talented boy. Billy's father walks into the building right in the middle of Billy's dance, and angrily tells him that he will not be a goddamned "bally" dancer. Afterall, "bally" dancing is for "poofs". Billy is left hysterical and alone, not knowing where to turn for support.

Following an offer from the dance instructor to give him lessons and help him apply to the Royal Ballet Academy, Billy continues practicing ballet in secret, until he must acquire the money to audition for admission into this prestigious school. This forces him to reveal to the public that ballet dancing is his life pursuit. Surprisingly, the blue collar town contributes to his fund, which brings about unity between all of the various classes, and allows the families to bond, despite their varying backgrounds.

The most impressive parts of the play for me were the intricate sets and the story itself, more than the music or costumes. I've heard much better singing on a broadway stage, and I've certainly heard better music by Elton John, but those working on this production did a great job with conveying the atmosphere in Newcastle at the time. Billy's home consists of a kitchen below a tall spiral staircase that rises from below the stage (not sure how that technology works). His bed is situated at the top of the spiral staircase, and emphasizes the fact that Billy's only places of refuge are the privacy of his own bedroom and the dance floor. His elevated bed draws attention and forces the crowd to empathize with Billy's situation. His abusive father forces him to escape whenever possible, and his feelings of frustration and loneliness are highlighted with the elevated bed. In one scene, Billy tosses up the wire frame of his bed and dances to a dark song that reveals his inner anger, all of which displays a creative use of the set.

Another scene that strikes the attention of the audience is one in which a hoard of police regulating the strike come onto the stage with the ballet dancers, while both dance in unison. The policeman, standing rigidly in a horizontal line, beat their batons against thick plastic shields, resulting in an extremely terrifying noise, so loud that forces you want to plug your ears. The ballet dancers take part in their own routine while this goes on. The clash between the police and the delicate little ballet dancers emphasizes the struggle between the common folk of Newcastle and the brutal authority of Margaret Thatcher's enforcers.

My favorite scene was one in which young Billy meets an older version of himself and dances in unison with him. Both are wearing the same outfit and perform the exact same moves (older Billy is much more muscular!), so it is almost as if it is a mirror image dancing on the stage. Fog is blown onto the stage to create a dream-like effect, as Billy is, in fact, supposedly imagining this encounter. Billy's encounter with his older self bolsters his self confidence and enables him to stand up to his angry, forceful father. At the end of this powerful scene, Billy strikes a solid pose right in front of his outraged father, who is standing arms akimbo. This scene is symbolic of Billy's evolution from boy to man; it displays Billy's newfound confidence, which he slowly acquires, despite all of the obstacles that face him. After this, I found myself reflecting on times where I have envisioned my future self and tried to picture the state I will be in ten years from now- scary, yet exciting.

The lead actor in this play, although only 12 or 14 years old, was an excellent dancer, and was most impressive throughout. I should not have been surprised with the amount of young talent present in this musical, but I truly was. Billy's young sidekick, who reveals himself to be a "poof" in secret, was extremely talented as well for his age. His antics were entertaining, and, all in all, I believe that it was great to address the issue of homosexuality and the oppression that can result in exposing one's true nature. There was one particular scene where Billy's young pal (gosh, I'm blanking on his name) makes Billy dress up in his mother's clothes and dance around flamboyantly. He reminds Billy that there is no shame in this and that he should do whatever he wants, regardless of the social stigma that can come with being genuine. The overall message of this play was great; it really reminds us all to be ourselves and accept others, regardless of our varying talents, hobbies, appearances, or passions. Billy ultimately is accepted into the Royal Ballet Academy and becomes a successful dancer, illustrating the fact that dedication, self confidence, and perserverence in the face of opposition are the keys to accomplishment in life. This play was powerful, and the scene with Billy and his future self dancing together is absolutely the most inspiring scene I've seen in a musical to date. Go see it!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Necessity of Friends in a City Teeming with Strangers

I am sitting alone once again in my barely furnished apartment with mixed feelings of both respite and loneliness- a combination of feelings frequently felt by anybody living in New York City. My friends from Leuven came out last night and we had a great time together, but it has been hard having people come in and out, always staying just for a bit. This morning we all sat and reminisced about our days abroad when we would travel on a whim and then sit all day talking and eating together for the majority of the time that we weren't traveling. The most special thing about going abroad was being able to bond with people on a deeper level than with anyone else in any other circumstances.  Now it seems as though all catching up must be done within a small time frame; everything is just so much more rushed than it used to be. I don't feel settled. 

Even though people come and go, staying for only a brief stint, seeing familiar faces makes it so much easier to survive in such a cold-hearted, frantic city, full of people who only notice themselves. For such a populated island, Manhattan is ever so lonely, and I don't think I will ever be able to pinpoint the reason for this. When friends aren't coming into town, I am usually escaping to the suburbs in New Jersey or visiting friends in other cities.  I must admit that I do feel a bit lost right now, and am trying to find a place that I can truly call home. These days, "home" seems to be a relative term. I guess if I had a community here I would perhaps feel more at home, but this city isn't very conducive to that. As cliche as it really is, the people in your life make a place feel like home. I am not sure where I will be one year from now, but I do hope that I am surrounded by people that I know and love, regardless of where my path will lead. I do know one thing for sure; it is strange trying to find a home, a place to truly fit and feel content and blissfully happy, even through the down times. I'd say I had finally found that two years ago in the people I became so close with from Loyola. 

Next blog will be more artsy- Moma and AMNH October 15 or 16!